Benefits of cardiovascular exercise
It’s no secret that cardiovascular capacity is a key component of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s important to examine why.
Research shows that cardiovascular exercise is associated with several physical health benefits, such as decreased risk for heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, and many more. And, in addition, it also improves mood, sleep, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, exercise tolerance, and metabolism.
Beyond the physical benefits, however, cardiovascular training also enhances mental wellness. When we exercise, our brains undergo a process known as neurogenesis—or growth of new cells—which improves brain performance. The hippocampus, a section in the brain largely responsible for learning and retention, is strengthened with cardiovascular exercise. This aids in the prevention of memory loss and cognitive decline. On top of this, cardiovascular exercise has also been shown to improve self-esteem, mood, anxious thoughts, and even depression.
Best cardiovascular exercises for older adults
Although there are various exercise regimens to choose from, not all are created equal. The following list provides an overview of exercises that older adults can use to get moving safely and effectively.
Walking & hiking
Walking and hiking are the simplest ways to get the blood pumping since no additional equipment or set up is required. These types of movement are lower-body dominant but require coordination across the entire kinetic chain, including the upper body, lower body, and trunk.
These activities can be measured by time or distance and can use frequency of speed as an additional variable for progress.
For someone just beginning a new walking routine, it’s important to start light. For example, beginners could commit to a program that encourages them to walk for 10 minutes every other day. As the weeks progress, a challenge might be to increase the time to 15 minutes, increase the frequency to 4x/week, or increase the pace to lengthen distance.
Another progression from walking could be to add elevation and transform a walk into a hike, using a walking stick as needed to ease the burden on joints during the downhill portion. Most importantly, it is crucial to only progress one variable at a time to avoid fatigue and possible injury.
Biking is another popular method of cardio and a great way to explore your community. Highly lower body dominant, this exercise gives the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles a well-rounded workout. Like the walking progressions, time, distance, intensity, or amount of rest between sessions can be altered to force the body to continually adapt to a new, safe workload. If balance is troublesome or you don’t live in an area where biking is convenient, stationary biking acts as a great and safe alternative.
Weightlifting & gym work
There are many cross-over benefits from cardiovascular to strength training in terms of mental wellness, but strength training adds a layer of confidence not found with other forms of training. It gives older adults the peace of mind they need to perform daily activities—like getting up and down from a low surface, navigating stairs, reaching, lifting objects heavier objects—with ease. There is a level of comfort that comes with knowing not only how to do these activities with success, but also how to perform them using the right technique for smooth and safe execution.
In addition to mental and systemic health, strength training provides extra physical health benefits such as improving joint support, tendon durability, and bone health. Results will vary from participant to participant, but applying the SAID Principle (specific adaptation to imposed demands) to any program is the best way to ensure a holistic approach to building optimal resiliency in body tissues.
As gyms reopen, there are growing opportunities to participate in various types of group exercise classes. Yoga, Pilates, Tabata, and general strength and conditioning classes are available nationwide. Participating in any of these classes is also an excellent opportunity for seniors to enjoy a good sweat with a friend, significant other, or family member.
Rhythm isn’t required for an effective dance workout. This is often a very fun and engaging way to get exercise without even realizing it. Memorizing and performing sets of coordinated movements allow older adults to develop and fine tune motor skills, like coordination and postural endurance, while learning a lifelong skill. There are countless classes becoming more and more available, so now is the time to sign up and get to know your body on a deeper level.
The gentle flow of any yoga practice is tailored to fit the needs of all age groups and abilities, but it lends itself particularly well to the needs of the aging population.
A combination of slow movements and deep breathing can increase blood flow and heat to the muscles to improve overall strength, balance, and flexibility. In addition, a regular practice can help alleviate aches and pains and ease general discomfort. In fact, gentle yoga has been found to provide relief to people who are experiencing tender and swollen joints as a result of arthritis. And the benefits of yoga, do not end there. Finding regular ways to sprinkle in a variety of stretching movements throughout the week, can result in a healthier heart, better sleep, more energy, less stress, and better self-care.
Principles of load management
No matter what type of movement a person participates in, one statement will always remain the same: ”motion is lotion.” This means that movement is the key component that supplies the spinal discs, joint cartilage, ligaments, and tendons with the nutrition they need to perform at the highest level.
Our body’s tissues (muscles, ligaments, bones, joints, tendons, etc.) respond well to movement under appropriate directions and loads. Load is simply another term that refers to any kind of daily repeated movements, including exercise. Prolonged postures often have a great deal of influence on the state of our bodies and how they relate to loads. If we keep our activity or exercise level consistent, we can expect a consistent response with normal tissue maintaining its base level. Going above or below this amount causes a change in the affected tissue.
- Tissue failure (injury)
- Increased tolerance (hypertrophy)
- Decreased tolerance (atrophy)
- Tissue failure (cell death)
This concept of tissue tolerance is described by the following graph encapsulating on our usual activities. Essentially, the graph shows that if we slip outside of the parameters in one large event or prolonged smaller events, injury may occur. This would be depicted by the arc shrinking since you can no longer tolerate the same stress without pain or further tissue injury. Spending an appropriate amount of time around the edge of the arc can improve capacity and acclimation to new activities, thus increasing its size.
This is easily understood with a single injurious event, or chronic injury with the onset of a new activity. However, the silent influencer on our body’s status comes down to what’s called the “Acute on Chronic Load.” This concept shows that if we notably increase the amount of activity we do in any given week compared to the average of the previous 6 weeks, injury is more likely to occur. A small increase was well-handled by the body, but beyond a certain limit, the injury risk increased with the greater rise in activity level.
Always be sure to speak with a trusted professional when increasing your activity level whether you’re starting a new hobby, coming back from injury, or looking to become more fit.
Nutrients needed to maintain joint health
When we talk about joint health, we can’t forget to mention the nutritional building blocks that enable our joints to move freely without pain or limitation. There are many factors that can impair normal joint function and regeneration, including age, activity levels, stress, hormones, nutrition, and medications. Healthy diet, exercise, and stress levels help optimize our joint health, but sometimes we need extra supplement support to achieve the best results.
Here are some nutrients that are especially helpful in easing joint pain and enabling full range of motion:
Collagen is the most prevalent protein in the body. As one of the primary structural proteins in joints and connective tissues—such as tendons, ligaments, and skin—it plays an active role in supporting cartilage growth and reducing joint pain. Plus, it is easy to introduce collagen into your diet. It adds a tasteless and healthy boost to your daily smoothies, coffee, or beverage of choice.
Through the formation of proteoglycans, glucosamine provides precursors for structural repair of ligaments, tendons, and joint cartilage. Along with collagen, proteoglycans form cartilage, the spongy, rubber-like padding that covers and protects the tips of bones, where the joints are located.
Sulfur is an important nutrient for healthy collagen formation. In addition to being a source of sulfur, N-acetyl-L-cysteine is a precursor to glutathione, a key antioxidant, so this is an ideal form of sulfur to use.
Quercetin & resveratrol
These compounds are found in a variety of healthy foods. Quercetin is found in red onions, apples, olive oil, dark berries, salad greens and culinary herbs, while resveratrol is present in grapes, red wine, raspberries, plums, and açai berries. Both nutrients help protect against oxidative stress and encourage a balanced inflammatory response.
When these exercises and supplements are paired together, they create the ideal vision for optimum health. Training multiple systems to work in conjunction with one another is the best way to ensure the body is properly balanced and aligned properly.
For more information on finding an exercise and supplement regimen to fit your specific needs please contact our team of specialists. We are always available to provide specific guidance on ways to best optimize your performance and ensure safety throughout your movement journey. Located in Solana Beach in San Diego County, CA, Spark Health Integrative Medicine examines your health using a wider lens. Our team of practitioners work collaboratively to identify the root cause of your symptoms and/or health goals, and create personalized solutions that will guide you toward long-term wellness. Contact us to schedule an initial appointment!
Article written by Dr. Jennifer Zeglen, ND and Dr. Paul Lally, PT, DPT, SCS